Sycamore Academy of Science and Cultural Arts charter school in Chino Hills opened on Wednesday to approximately 200 students attending transitional kindergarten through fifth grade.
The charter school was authorized by San Bernardino County Board of Education on appeal last year after the Chino Valley school board denied its charter application.
Sycamore leases part of the former Los Serranos Elementary from the school district.
The district currently uses most of that campus to run several alternative education high school programs, including the Chino Valley Learning Academy for expelled students.
Sycamore operates from a two-story building on the south end of the campus, separated from these programs by a chain-link fence.
Students and teachers spent their first morning at the new school getting to know one another.
In one fourth-grade classroom, the class sat in a circle on the floor and shared information about themselves.
Next door in third grade, students Aiden Banvelos and Kaleem Smartt practiced doing a handshake they had created.
School principal Jeff Morabito said these activities will not be limited to the first day of school.
As a standard classroom practice, they will help prevent students from acting out and bullying, he said.
Chino Hills resident Stephanie Galindo said her children will do better with Sycamore’s philosophy of hands-on learning.
“They tend to get bored in a traditional classroom,” she said.
An older daughter attends sixth grade at Litel Elementary in Chino Hills this year because Sycamore is only offering up to fifth grade for its first year.
Ms. Galindo said she also prefers a K-8 school environment.
The charter school will add one new grade level per year up to grade eight.
School principal Jeff Morabito said parents typically choose charter schools for these reasons.
“The issue for any school is how to keep kids engaged,” the principal said.
“Sycamore’s model promotes active engagement throughout the day in all subjects.”
Teachers are trained in how to keep students involved in the classroom, he added.
Many of the teachers at the Chino Hills campus had previously worked at Sycamore’s campus in Wildomar, which is in San Diego County.
Mr. Morabito said every student starting from first grade will receive a Chrome book, which is a laptop computer.
“Computers will be used by students for augmenting work, and not as a substitution,” he said.
Starting in third grade, computers are useful to teach coding and engineering, but before the third grade, the emphasis is on learning to read, which is best accomplished with a hard book, he said.
“Kids will look carefully at pictures in books but on a computer device, they flip through too fast,” he said.
It was a bonus that the school campus came equipped with a library and books, he said.
While Mr. Morabito was on campus, school founder Barbara Hale greeted parents at the front entrance.
Ms. Hale said that some families living in the neighborhood walked their children to school.
She said traffic flow didn’t appear to be a problem on the first day, in which many parents parked to walk their children into the campus.
For vehicle traffic, the goal was to “safely move them in and out within 15 minutes,” she said adding, “I think the neighborhood would appreciate that.”